Education spending in Scotland has slumped by more than £1,000 per pupil in secondary schools, according to Holyrood research released yesterday.
The news has prompted opposition claims that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge to make education her top priority in office is now “meaningless”.
The figures were revealed by Labour leader Kezia Dugdale at First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood yesterday.
But the SNP leader rejected the findings and insisted that councils’ own statistics suggest education spending has gone up.
The independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) report indicated that spending on every secondary school pupil has been cut by more than £1,141 since 2011.
The findings come at a time when Scotland has fallen down the international Pisa education standings in key areas including reading, science and maths.
“Under the SNP, the official figures show that spending on pupils is going down again in real terms, despite what John Swinney has claimed,” Ms Dugdale said.
“The SNP has cut spending by hundreds of pounds on every single pupil, and it’s cut spending on each secondary school pupil by over £1,000.
“It’s not the SNP reforms backed by the Tories that our schools need, it’s cold hard cash.
“Until Nicola Sturgeon commits to more funding for our schools, using the powers of this parliament, then her promise of education being her top priority is utterly meaningless.
“This week, teachers are going on their summer break. But what they really need is a break from this SNP government.”
The First Minister declared in a flagship speech last year that education would be her top priority in office and urged Scots to “judge” her on the issue.
But ministers have since been forced to contend with a series of reports which point to a fall in standards in classrooms. The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) for 2015 found Scotland has tumbled down league tables for maths, reading and science when compared with 34 other developed countries and the UK’s three other home nations.
That report prompted education secretary John Swinney to unveil major reform of the education system earlier this month, with proposals which hand sweeping new powers to head teachers over budgets, the classroom curriculum and their staff.
The figures from SPICe published yesterday show that spending per pupil in secondaries was down £1,141 to £6,892 since 2010-11, a fall of 14.2 per cent based on real term 2017-18 figures.
In special schools, spending is down by more than £2,000 although the fall is less dramatic at just 2.6 per cent. Primary school spending is unchanged, meaning the average spending across all pupils in Scotland is down £491.
Labour’s own analysis finds that over the past six years a cumulative total of £1.2 billion has been cut from schools spending in Scotland at 2017-18 prices.
But the First Minster pointed to data published earlier this week which indicated that spending is on the up.
“Councils are planning to spend £144 million more – that’s 3 per cent in cash, 1.3 per cent in real terms – on education this year than they planned to spend last year,” she told MSPs
“That includes the planned spend on the pupil equity fund of £120m that I spoke about. Those, Presiding Officer, are the facts. This government is taking the tough action to reform our education system, to get more powers into the hands of head teachers and teachers, and crucially to get more resources into the hands of head teachers and teachers.”
With schools being run by local councils, Ms Sturgeon turned on the decisions made in North Lanarkshire, where Labour runs the authority along with the Tories.
The First Minister said: “North Lanarkshire in its recent budget decided two things of relevance to this discussion.
“Firstly, it decided not to use the powers it had been given to increase the council tax, it decided to freeze the council tax.
“Secondly, it decided to cut the number of classroom assistants, to sack the very support staff Kezia Dugdale is talking about.”
Ms Sturgeon pledged: “This government will continue to invest in education, reform education and deliver the changes that our education system needs.”